(This story written by Missourinet news director Brian Hauswirth and news director Matt West at Missourinet Festus affiliate KJFF Radio)

Legislation has been signed into law renaming a section of I-55 in Jefferson County for a southeast Missouri native who died last year in New York, after saving another swimmer caught in a riptide.

Cadet Thomas Surdyke; photo courtesy of Missourinet Festus affiliate KJFF Radio

West Point Cadet Thomas Surdyke grew up in Festus and graduated from St. Pius X.

Governor Eric Greitens (R), who signed the bill at St. Pius, describes Surdyke as a “man of tremendous courage, tremendous compassion and great patriotism.”

“Who demonstrated that at every step of his life. As an Eagle Scout, as a student here at St. Pius and someone who dedicated himself to serving all of us at West Point, and then of course someone who gave his life saving the life of another,” Greitens tells Missourinet Festus affiliate KJFF Radio (AM 1400).

State Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, says Surdyke saved another swimmer’s life in June 2016 on Long Island, after both men were caught in a riptide. Surdyke was overcome by exhaustion and died a few days later at a hospital.

The legislation designates a portion of I-55 as the “USMA Cadet Thomas Surdyke Memorial Highway.”

State Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, describes Surdyke as a hero. Wieland tells KJFF Radio that Surdyke made a lasting impact on St. Pius and on the entire community.

“Today’s world we need role models, we need heroes. We need people for the other kids here at St. Pius to be able to look up to and say ‘this is the right way to do things.’ And Tom Surdyke, by his sacrifice and his courage, just exemplifies what we want to see in all of our children,” Wieland says.

During the incident, Surdyke and the civilian, a man he’d only met that day, were pulled out to sea.

Gov. Eric Greitens signs the Surdyke legislation into law on June 30, 2017, flanked by State Sen. Paul Wieland, State Rep. Elaine Gannon and the Surdyke family (photo courtesy of Missourinet Festus affiliate KJFF Radio)

Wieland says Surdyke kept the civilian’s head above water until help could arrive, without regard for his own safety.

State Rep. Elaine Gannon, R-DeSoto, filed the bill’s House version. Gannon says Thomas Surdyke’s “nature was to put others first.”

KJFF also reports Surdyke played football at St. Pius and had just completed his first year at West Point. KJFF says St. Pius has named its newly-remodeled library as the “Thomas Surdyke Memorial Library.”